Comments to ODNR must be submitted by Dec. 23
By Bernhard Debatin
The ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management is currently requesting comments on proposed changes to the rules and regulations for gas and oil drilling and for wastewater injection. Any comments must be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 23, 2011.
In Ohio, these rules and regulations are established under Ohio Administrative Code 1501:9. The draft proposal for the revisions can be viewed here, a 105-page long document that shows all changes, amendments, and rescissions.
Following are the most important changes, and a first attempt to interpret their implications. A lot of it is about more “flexibility,” i.e. less oversight and fewer safety precautions. Please note that I am frequently quoting from rescinded language to show what’s no longer required.
Also, please feel free to use the following points in your comments to email@example.com
Applicants no longer need to submit a “plan for disposal of water and other waste substances resulting from, obtained, or produced in connection with exploration, drilling, or production of oil or gas” (…) and the “identification of any disposal well or disposal wells to be used,” as well as “name of the person or company disposing of the salt water and the ultimate location of its disposal,” see page 13, (A)(1).
- Basically, this means that permit applicants do not need to declare how and where they’ll dispose their wastewater. It also means that there’s no control by ODNR of the company who’s dealing with the disposal. In other words, there’s no closed and monitored chain of accountability between the production of the wastewater and its ultimate disposal.
Permits no longer expire after 12 months. It’s now 12 months for urban and 24 months for non-urban areas. Also, the time limit on drilling that is “commenced but not completed” is lifted (it used to be 12 months), see p. 17, (I).
The same changes are made in the passages about permits for injection wells, see p. 45, (I), for conversion operations, see p. 63, (I), and for solution mining operations, see p. 79, (L)
- This implies that rural areas will be under more lax rules and that landowners will have less ability to file complaints against tardy or slow operations.
- To “commence” an operation, it is usually enough to park a caterpillar or some other equipment at the designated area. This implies, as Paul Feecel from Carrol Concerned Citizens pointed out at his presentation in Athens, that a lease or a permit may be extended almost indefinitely by moving some equipment to the area right before the expiration date.
1501:9-1-03 Surety bond:
A “copy of independent appraisal or copy of the county auditor’s assessed value of all real estate listed if the book value exceeds twenty-thousand dollars” is no longer needed.
- This will most likely have a huge impact on landowners and their ability to prove and preserve their property value. It will be up to landowners to obtain (costly) independent appraisals or the county auditor’s assessment.
- This is an undue cost-shifting onto the property owner. It also releases the operator from the responsibility to explore and appreciate the value of the land they’re using. It also makes it harder for land owners to claim damages to the value of their property during and after fracking.
1501:9-1-04 Spacing of wells:
The requirement “for new applications to drill wells in urbanized areas, the proposed wellhead location shall be no closer than seventy-five feet to any property not within the subject tract or drilling unit” is no longer part of the rules, see , p. 27, (C)(5).
- While 75 feet was already a very close distance, the complete lack of any such regulation can mean that the wellhead is directly at the border to the next unrelated property. This also means that the whole drilling, fracking, and gas production operation can now be much closer to one’s property. This increases the potential risk of close fires and explosions, or even drilling rigs falling onto your property or house.
1501:9-1-07 Prevention of contamination and pollution:
These rules deal with contamination during drilling and fracking. There’s no change to the rules but the brevity and vagueness of the existing language is extremely concerning:
“(A) All persons engaged in any phase of operation of any well or wells shall conduct such operation or operations in a manner which will not contaminate or pollute the surface of the land, or water on the surface or in the subsurface.” (S. 34)
Part (B) deals with urbanized areas and refers at least to best management practices (BMP). By implication, however, non-urbanized areas apparently don’t need to follow BMPs!
- That’s all the regulations have to say about this issue. Since it remains undefined what constitutes “contamination” and “pollution,” it is hard to imagine how ODNR or a landowner or a community would enforce this vague language.
- Moreover, the difference between urban and non-urbanized areas implies that operators in non-urbanized areas apparently do not need to follow BMPs!
- This passage clearly needs some add additional language dealing with the specific risks and side-effects of contamination due to fracking operations. This would imply issues such as mandating water, air and soil testing, a definition of test methods and of allowable concentration of chemicals in fracking fluids and in the environment, as well as a full disclosure requirement of all chemicals used in the drilling and fracking process.
(Later in the document, there’s a bit more language on injection wells and contamination, but that is not too specific, either).
1501:9-9-03 Drilling and deepening operations:
The rule that “in urbanized areas, once total depth has been reached and the rig has been removed from the drilling location, all drilling pits shall be closed within thirty days” is no longer existent, see p. 89, (L).
- Again, more “flexibility” for the drillers and less protection for citizens. An open pit means potentially more air pollution due to fugitive methane gas.
- Lifting the time limit also means less incentive for the industry to complete the job in a timely manner, which leads to increased nuisance for the property owner and a decrease of quality of life.
1501:9-9-05 Producing operations:
Oil production tanks no longer need to be “set a minimum of 50 feet from the traveled portion of a public road and a minimum of one hundred feet from existing inhabited structures and a minimum of three feet between tanks and a minimum of fifty feet from any well,” see p. 91, (A)(2)
Fire heaters are no longer required to be set a minimum of fifty feet from the well and from oil production tanks and a minimum of one hundred feet from existing inhabited structures and a minimum of fifty feet from mechanical separators, see p. 91, (A)(3)
Mechanical separators no longer need to be “set a minimum of fifty feet from the well, a minimum of ten feet from oil production tanks and a minimum of one hundred feet from existing inhabited structures”, see p. 91, (A)(5)
- All this seems simply irresponsible. The risk of fires and explosions of wells, tanks, and related equipment is well documented (see for instance the incidents in Carroll County). Removing minimal distance and leaving it up to random decisions by people on-site is the complete complete relinquishment of the very idea of reasonable regulatory action.
1501:9-11-02 Permit to plug:
The 12 months limit for the permit is lifted. Also, if plugging is “commenced but not completed” it “shall be continued with due diligence” (and no longer within the following 12 months).
- As with closing the drilling pit (above), this provides more “flexibility” for the drillers and less protection for citizens. An unplugged, open well always means more air pollution due to fugitive methane gas, even at the end of commercially usable production.